Tag Archives: Psalm 25

Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.

VERB

Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Prayer-filled Lent #1: Praying for Our World

given on Sunday, February 22, 2015

Stepping into a new role can often cause us to rethink what we are doing in our lives and even whether or not we can possibly fill that role. When my para asked if I would mentor her son in his effort to earn the God and Me Badge for Scouts, I eagerly accepted. What I did not anticipate is that I could learn more from the process than I was able to give. In Psalms 25, the psalmist says:

The Lord is good and does what is right;

He shows the proper path to those who go astray.

He leads the humble in doing right,

Teaching them his way. (v.8-9, NLT)

 

The psalmist tells us that God shows us the proper path, and the acronym P.A.T.H. comes from that experience with the Scout badge. The guidebook offered the idea that PATH was a way to learn how to pray. I found myself using that structure to check my own prayers and to evaluate the prayers I have been writing. (Interestingly, the mentor’s manual shared that PATH was a simplified version of ACHE, representing a much more adult choice of words that I can’t even remember, so I am sticking with PATH.) Therefore, during Lent I am going to focus on PATH as we fill the Christian Lent season with prayers.

Let’s look at this acronym again:

P — Praise: Tell God how awesome he is for always loving us.

A– Apologize: Tell God you are sorry for your mistakes.

T– Thank: Thank God for helping you and all he gives you.

H– Help: Ask God for help making the right decisions

or for answering your worries or problems.

 

The scripture from Matthew gives us the words Jesus taught his disciples in what we commonly refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. The choice of denomination or the choice of a Bible’s translation can change words subtly, but the structure and the meaning really do not change. The translation used today is the New Living Translation and includes the word ‘sin’ rather than the more traditional ‘trespasses’ or what other denominations might chose such as ‘debts/debtors’.

Using the Lord’s Prayer can become a mindless routine if we allow it to lose its meaning. In the study notes from the Life Application Bible, this concern is addressed:

Repeating the same words over and over like a magic incantation is no way to ensure that God will hear your prayer. It’s not wrong to come to God many times with the same requests—Jesus encourages persistent prayer. But he condemns the shallow repetition of words that are not offered with a sincere heart. We can never pray too much if our prayers are honest and sincere. Before you start to pray, make sure you mean what you say. (study notes for Mt. 6:7-8)

 

I admit that I have wondered how much value there is in repeating the same prayer over and over, but I had the thought this past week that when all else fails, the Lord’s Prayer bubbles up and fills in when my mind can’t.

Living in a world that is filled with evil, prayer is a tool all Christians can implement in any situation whether in joy, in fear, in praise, in pain, or for absolutely any reason. We need to make sure we understand that God hears all the thoughts that run through our mind. Sometimes what we are thinking is so un-Christian it is the last thing that we want to share with God; and in Jesus’ instructions, he includes an apology.

Use prayer with intention. In those private moments when our minds begin going over the concerns we have and we begin asking God for help, be intentional. Practice prayer. Realize how many times thoughts go through your mind and you discover there is only one listening and that is God. During Lent, we are going to practice prayer in very intentional manners. Let’s add specific prayers. Keep a prayer journal, even date it and write down a list of people, topics, places, or anything you want God to focus on.

Share the prayers so others may add them to their list. The prayer of one is like a single ray of light, but when more rays of light are added together it becomes a strong beam even more visible. And if the beam of light is shined through a magnifier, the intensity of the light can become a force that lights a fire. Our prayers can be that beam through the magnifier, and God will light the fire to eliminate the problem.

Intentional prayer can also be strong by shining the positives through a prism creating a rainbow of beauty. The intentional prayers for the good in the world catch God’s attention also, and he can spread the good in like the glory of the rainbow.

Today, let us intentionally pray for the world! The news brings to our attention problems that are so horrific that as Christians we are torn as to what we can possibly do. The worst of the worst is news of the Coptic Christians who were beheaded. What can we do? We pray.

We pray for the peace of those who died because of their faith. We pray for the pain of their families. We pray for the world that knows the evil is spreading. We pray for the communities facing these horrors within their own city limits, their country’s borders, and even the region.

We pray. We pray intentionally. We pray together. We pray for understanding and for peace. We pray for the world leaders who have to make tough decisions. We pray for the men and women who are going to have to face the violence in any effort to stop evil.

During the week ahead, intentionally add prayers for the world in your own prayers. Prayers for the world may be to stop the evil we are witnessing in the Mid-East, but the prayers for our world need to go beyond that one issue. The list covers so much:

  • World leaders and global peace
  • Environmental issues—loss of natural resources above and below ground
  • Climate changes, esp. due to factory emissions, cars left to drizzle
  • Careless use of genetic engineering
  • Unsafe water, esp. in extremely poor, third world countries
  • Other . . .

 

How can we be more intentional with our prayers? Our lives are so full as it is, adding in more prayer time may seem impossible. Being intentional about what we pray means being intentional with the practice of prayer. While we are filling Lent with intentional prayer, we can learn how to add in ways to improve our prayer life. Today, how do we find more time to pray?

In an article on the United Methodist Church website, an article by Joe Lovino from December 22, 2014, creates a list of suggestions to find more prayer time:

  • Make prayer a priority
  • Make an appointment with God
  • Find a sacred place (to pray)
  • Turn off the television
  • Pray with a group
  • Pray as a family
  • Keep your Bible and prayer journal
  • Keep the conversation going all day (remember prayer is conversation with God)
  • Pray your calendar
  • Use resource such as the Upper Room or other devotionals such as those on line
  • Experiment with different methods
  • Enjoy it
  • Keep going

 

As in all lists of suggestions, some may not work for you; but the important thing is to use just ways that do work for you. Study the list, write out the concerns for the world that you can include in your prayers, and then do it—pray intentionally.

Closing prayer for the world:

Dear Heavenly Father,

(Praise)      You have provided us a world

that meets our every need.

You gave us the opportunity to live

freely in our own way.

(Apology)  Yet we ignore our responsibility

as caretakers of nature’s wealth.

We fail to live as responsible neighbors

not loving them as we want to be loved.

(Thanks)    Thank you for loving us despite

our repeated failures.

Thank you for continuing to listen

to our selfish prayers.

(Help)        Please patiently hear our prayers

as we continue to grow in faith.

Talk with us as we struggle to hear you

and to recognize your answers.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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